The Most Common Infections In Seniors, And What To Watch For

If it seems like your elderly relatives catch certain infections a lot easier than when they were younger, you’re right.

And for people over the age of 65, these illnesses may be much harder to diagnose. For a senior in long-term care or who has dementia, the risks of an undiagnosed infection can be even higher.

One of the difficulties of diagnosis is that in the elderly, common infections can have nonspecific symptoms like loss of appetite, increased mental fogginess or confusion, or a decline in physical functioning, such as muscle strength, incontinence or falling. So it’s important to stay alert to any changes in health, and to take steps to prevent these common infections:

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common bacterial infection in older adults according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Using a catheter or having diabetes can increase the risk. Pain or discomfort may or may not be present when a senior has a UTI, so be alert for sudden changes in behavior like a worsening dementia or the onset of urinary incontinence. Diagnosis of a UTI is by urinalysis or other testing by a physician, with antibiotics being the most common treatment. To help prevent UTIs, drink plenty of water.

Bacterial pneumonia is the reason 60 percent of seniors over age 65 are admitted to the hospital, according to the AAFP. Seniors may not show the usual fever, chills and cough, so keep an eye out for nonrespiratory symptoms. These can include weakness, confusion and even delirium. A pneumococcal vaccine can help prevent many pneumonia cases.

Influenza can be deadly in the elderly. With weaker immunity and other chronic conditions, seniors are at high risk of developing severe complications from the flu, including pneumonia. Cough, fever and chills are the primary symptoms. The flu can easily spread through coughing and sneezing, which is especially problematic in a closed environment like a long-term care facility. The best prevention is good hand-washing hygiene and an annual flu vaccination.

Gastrointestinal infections can result from age-related changes in digestion and changes in the “good” bacteria in the digestive tract. Nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and other symptoms should be promptly evaluated by a physician, as long-term illnesses may result if left untreated.

Skin infections can happen more often because aging skin has less resistance to disease and is slower to heal. Look for changes in skin itching, lesions or pain. To keep skin infections at bay, practice proper hand washing, and general cleanliness.

How GMC Can Help

Gwinnett Extended Care Center (GECC) bridges the gap between levels of care for patients who are well enough to leave the hospital, but not yet able to return home, providing both sub-acute, short stay services and intermediate, extended care. Located on the Gwinnett Medical Center-Lawrenceville campus, GECC has nine private and 40 semi-private rooms and each resident is cared for by an interdisciplinary team of physicians, physical therapists, nurses and other health professionals. Learn more at


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